Foundation Funding Tips for Public Charities


Emily Harting, Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort, Victor Rivera Labiosa


Funding Advocacy, Private and Public Foundation Advocacy, Recordkeeping

On this episode, we’re going to talk about funding… More specifically, how your nonprofit can raise dollars from private and public foundations to support your advocacy work. We’re joined on this episode by Emily Harting, AFJ’s Director of Foundation Relations.

Our Attorneys for This Episode:

Emily Harting Natalie Roetzel Ossenfort Victor Rivera Labiosa

In This Episode

Introducing Emily Harting  

Tips for Groups Working to Identify Potential Foundation Partners:

  • Start with path of least resistance – review foundation websites.
  • Find out who funds your organization’s allies (groups whose work you admire).
  • Connect with board members to assess their networks and seek out their advice.
  • Review your organization’s history of foundation funding and consider reapproaching former funders.

Other Avenues for Foundation Research:

  • ProPublica (free access)
  • Instrumentl
  • Candid

Foundation Outreach Recommendations:

  • Make the job of the foundation program officer as easy as possible. Show them clearly and succinctly the connection between the foundation’s priorities and the work of your organization.
  • It’s always best to use a connection if you have one (i.e. board member or ally).
  • Send an email introduction explaining your organization and how you think it aligns with the funder’s priorities.
  • If your organization issued a report, is in the news, or is hosting an upcoming event, you can use that to prompt outreach to a potential funder.

Best Practices When Preparing for a Meeting with a Potential Foundation Partner:

  • Brief your staff, internal participants.
  • Create a “POP” Agenda.
  • Purpose (of meeting)
  • Outcome (desired results)
  • Process (rough outline of who speaks when and about what)
  • If it’s an in-person meeting, plan to have some organizational materials ready.
  • If possible, also have resources ready to send following the meeting to continue to build communication/relationship.

Proposal Process:

  • Understand foundation proposal guidelines and preferred templates (if any).
  • If they don’t have a template or provide guidelines, best to build a general template including:
  • Intro paragraph with funding request ($$ and purpose: program/GOS);
  • A brief overview of who your organization is and its history;
  • A description of your programs and recent work you’ve done;
  • Conclusion reinforcing your request.
  • Connect your work to the foundation’s mission to demonstrate shared priorities.
  • Write clearly.
  • If the foundation has a proposal submission portal, submit your application early in technical issues arise.
  • Be prepared to provide a budget, proof of your 501(c)(3) status, recent audited financial statements or 990s, a board list with affiliation, a staff list, etc.

What About General Operating Support (GOS)?

  • Funders usually start with a project grant, but some will give GOS outright.
  • Remember to keep the funder up-to-date on progress throughout the grant period and share work products (resources or reports, videos, testimonials etc).
  • Report on the grant as requested, when requested, and with the materials requested.
  • Your nonprofit is more likely to receive GOS after you have built a trust-based relationship with your funder.

Other Practical Tips:

  • Remember that both you and the funder are hoping your organization is a match: they want their funds to support great work!
  • Program officers are people. You’ll achieve the best results when you have a trusted relationship with each other.
  • Ask your program officers for advice and thoughts on your strategy and programs.
  • Don’t be afraid of your funder. If you run into a challenge, tell them. They might able to assist you in overcoming it.
  • Keep your funder in the loop. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn!
  • Play nice in the sandbox.
  • Be real and be realistic.